After two draws that provoked entirely opposing emotions, Fulham head to Elland Road tonight looking for their first win of the new season against a Leeds United side who have so far failed to convince under new manager Thomas Christiansen. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side have drawn all of their last four league games with Leeds 1-1, although the regular thorn in United’s side – their former midfielder Tom Cairney – might well miss tonight’s reunion with a knee problem that saw him withdraw from the substitutes bench after failing to complete the warm-up at Reading on Saturday.
The fact that Fulham somehow managed to salvage a point from the Madjeski Stadium despite having had Tomas Kalas sent off after just 39 seconds means that the Cottagers have travelled north in good heart. Lucas Piazon’s equaliser was a vital strike both in terms of pegging back the Royals towards the tail end of a contest that seemed to be going away from Fulham, but also because of the belief it will have imbued in this side. Piazon’s crucial cameo in Berkshire was a timely reminder of the energy and effectiveness he can bring to the side. It may be enough to see him replace Floyd Ayite, who limped off at Reading, in Jokanovic’s starting line-up this evening.
Leeds, whose dramatic implosion during the second half of last season provided Fulham with the opportunity to burst into the top six at the last, will be the third thorough examination of Fulham’s promotion credentials since the season kicked-off. Christiansen’s side might not have made the fast start to the new campaign that he had been looking for – last weekend saw a frustrating stalemate with Preston – but they still possess generate quality and will be roared on by 28,000 supporters. Jokanovic’s charges have yet to reprise the spellbinding football of last term, although it would have been suicidal to attempt it at Reading, given how quickly they were reduced to ten men. The Cottagers were so close to a win at Elland Road exactly a year ago – before Chris Wood’s late overkick intervened.
The former England international Rob Green could be restored between the sticks having completed his recovery from a troublesome knee injury. He is likely to be the only change from the side held by Preston at the weekend with Gaetano Berardi and on-loan Everton centre back Matthew Pennington still sidelined. While Christiansen’s side are yet to fire fully as Garry Monk’s team eventually did last term, Leeds still possess some phenomenal talent and will prove formidable opposition. Luke Ayling has become one of the division’s most consistent full backs and nobody can understate the impact Pontus Jansson had upon the club following his arrival from Torino last term. Signing the dominant Swedish centre back on a permanent basis was a real coup for Leeds.
Whilst Leeds are braced to rebuff bids for Chris Wood from Premier League sides in the coming days, Christiansen still has plenty of creative quality to pick from. Former Valencia midfielder Pablo Hernandez had an outstanding season last year and can unlock defences in an instant. The task for the likes of Kevin McDonald, Oliver Norwood and Stefan Johansen, who seemed badly below-par at Reading, is try and shut down the home side’s creative hub – and it could prove one of the keys to what seems an intriguing contest.
Jokanovic will likely keep faith with stand-in skipper Sone Aluko as a false nine at the top of the fluid 4-3-3 system that he has employed this season, although Aboubakar Kamara’s pace and power certainly worried Reading in the second half on Saturday and may have played some part in the daft concession of possession that led to Piazon’s equaliser. The French forward would certainly relish locking horns with Jansson, but Jokanovic is more likely to introduce the former Amiens striker to further Championship football in short bursts.
MY FULHAM XI (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks, R. Sessegnon, Odoi, Ream; McDonald, Norwood, Johansen; Aluko, Piazon, Kamara. Subs: Rodak, Djalo, Cisse, Edun, Cairney, Kebano, Woodrow.